Review: Pharoahe Monch (@pharoahemonch) Live @TheGarageHQ London




Top Trumps (No Don­ald)

If emcees were attrib­uted scores based on dis­tinct rhym­ing cat­egor­ies and sor­ted into top tumps cards, Phar­oahe Monch would argu­ably be the most power­ful card in the set.12071762_1142213232456938_942416321_n

Dur­ing a career span­ning four solo albums, three group albums and a lib­rary of guest col­lab­or­a­tions, Phar­oahe Monch has exhib­ited mas­tery via dex­trous rhyme flows that few oth­er emcees can rep­lic­ate; vicious mic put­downs; intro­spect­ive emo­tion­al con­ver­sa­tions; sin­cere social com­ment­ary; killer chanted hooks and immacu­lately sung chor­uses over a wide range of beat styles. This show exhib­ited all these traits.


Enter­ing the stage to the Ezra Col­lect­ive band’s expertly cory­bant­ic styl­ings, Phar­oahe Monch pro­claimed that he is “a mix­ture of Mar­cus Gar­vey, Miles Dav­is, and Bob Mar­ley” from the album WAR’s song “Assas­sins” to a rap­tur­ous audi­ence. Hype momentum was car­ried by the expertly inter­pol­ated live ver­sion of “Agent Orange” and the defi­ant and happy “Fuck You” to the police from the Train­ing Day soundtrack. The lat­ter was just an early protest against police bru­tal­ity, which received centre stage later in the set with a sequence fea­tur­ing BDP’s “Sound of Da Police,” NWA’s “Fuck the Police” and J Dilla’s song of the same title. This segue, which was intro­duced poignantly by Monch high­light­ing the dis­pens­ab­il­ity of Black lives at the hands of vacu­ous police bru­tal­ity was closed out by a rendi­tion of “Clap”, a ded­ic­a­tion to the vic­tims and their fam­il­ies, hon­oured by the audi­ence via their com­mem­or­ative syn­chron­ised hand clap­ping.

Gen­er­ally the mood through­out the night was excit­ing and upbeat with Phar­oahe look­ing like he hasn’t enjoyed rhym­ing this much in years. Fero­city was in high sup­ply via the hype­ness of songs amongst oth­ers such as “Right Here”, “Dam­age” (the third in the ‘song from the per­spect­ive of a bul­let tri­logy’), and of course the closer of the night “Simon Says” one of rap’s most lauded anthems, ubi­quit­ous with any Hip-Hop show that needs an adren­al­in shot and a sym­phony of voices holler­ing “bo bo bo bo bo!” and throw­ing their sets up. “Bad MF” was an over­com­pens­at­ing miss-step how­ever with its power chords, and brag­gado­cios and abras­ive hook.

Live and Dir­ect

Pos­it­ively, Ezra Col­lect­ive did an incred­ibly job of doing justice to Phar­oahe Monch’s cata­logue via phe­nom­en­al under­stand­ing of Hip-Hop grooves and swing , and the rest of the crew’s instru­ment­al expert­ise adding a wel­come dynam­ic that is often abused when Hip-Hop artists shoe­horn a live set up into their per­form­ances. Their inter­mis­sion fea­tured ver­sion of Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta”, was a bench­mark in per­form­ing cov­ers where the ori­gin­al art is hon­oured but a new ver­sion is com­pletely owned. Femi’s drum­ming on Grime inter­pol­a­tions was a sight to behold. 12443261_1142213225790272_148206986_n-01-min


Phar­oahe mil­it­ary jack­et clad returned to the red lit stage, with just DJ Boo­gie Blind hold­ing down the PA and no band intro­duced anoth­er emo­tion­ally charged sec­tion of the night. From the album “PTSD,” Phar­oahe Monch’s the­at­ric­al but not melo­dra­mat­ic per­form­ance “Time2” saw him put a lazer toy gun (à la the album cov­er) to his head as he sparred with his inner demons on the men­tal health themed “Time2”.

“We fight demons from our past only to face new mon­sters
I ask, are we comatose or uncon­scious?
My top spin’s per­petu­al, make the con­nec­tion
You sleep cause real­ity bites; incep­tion” – Phar­oahe Monch, “Time2.”

Now illu­min­ated by gamma green light­ing, Phar­oahe Monch test­i­fied to the power of addic­tion (wheth­er it be sub­stance or the addic­tion to mak­ing bad decisions) with soul­ful singing and a con­ver­sa­tion­al flow of “Broken Again.”

The DJ and the Cul­ture

DJ Boo­gie Blind did a bril­liant job of affirm­ing the back-bone of the cul­ture being rooted in the DJ with furi­ous scratch­ing and a seem-less mix­ing of the back­drops. Phar­oahe Monch and Boo­gie Blind took time to appre­ci­ate the beau­ti­ful music that informs Hip-Hop’s son­ic pal­let by play­ing the Aretha Frank­lin songs sampled by Mos Def for Ms Phat Booty and Pharoahe’s own col­lab­or­a­tion with Styles P “My Life” before mov­ing into the song itself. A homage to Hip-Hop’s deceased Nate Dogg was the play­ing of “Next Epis­ode,” which led into “Oh No.” One won­ders wheth­er Phar­oahe real­ised at the time how what seem like quickly jot­ted rhymes on Da Rock­wilder pro­duced Rawkus Records era song would end up becom­ing so revered and time­less. Not a single per­son refused to dance for this hit!

Tropes for the Ladies

Desire’s ode to love and intim­acy “So Good” was intro­duced by DJ Boo­gie Blind as a “let’s do some­thing for the ladies,” which is an annoy­ing trope too fre­quent at Hip-Hop shows. There were sev­er­al ladies in attend­ance who were dan­cing, head-nod­ding and enjoy­ing the set from the get-go so such pat­ron­ising sen­ti­ments are per­haps a reas­on that more women don’t make up the num­bers at gigs like this. In the words of a woman I was with: “I like rap-rap songs like “What it is” as much as songs like “So Good” so there’s need for that sort of intro­duc­tion.” Phar­oahe Monch is a reflect­ive per­son who seems to exude genu­ine empathy so it’s some­thing that could be addressed in the fore­see­able future.12516220_1142213229123605_1373814964_n-01-min

Hard­core Encore

Fol­low­ing the clos­ing “Simon Says”, Phar­oahe returned to the stage to sur­prise pleas­antly with a hark back to Organ­ized Kon­fuzion days with the phe­nom­en­al flow show­cas­ing of “Bring it On” and “Stress.” Phar­oahe Monch has detailed about how his debil­it­at­ing asthma was the reas­on he craf­ted intric­ate rhyme schemes and pat­terns, which stand the test of time by still being evid­ently ahead of the time and very few have caught up. The night’s ulti­mate closer was the lush “The Light.” This was a com­plete Hip-Hop show­case with an ill DJ, tight band and phe­nom­en­al emcee who laid out a plat­ter of a vast dis­co­graphy to remain argu­ably the best live emcee in the world. He’s the sort of dude you would securely and hap­pily have babysit your chil­dren one even­ing, and then ‘GET THE FUCK UP’ for the next to bring the noise.


By Wasif Sayyed [#WasifS­cion]

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Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed’s many years as a writer, rap­per, pro­moter, ment­or and hip-hop pro­du­cer have shaped him into an enthu­si­ast­ic and insight­ful cul­tur­al cryp­to­graph­er. He loves read­ing and cook­ing, and can hear the whis­per of an unsheathed liquid sword from 50 paces. Twit­ter @WasifScion

About Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed
Wasif Sayyed's many years as a writer, rapper, promoter, mentor and hip-hop producer have shaped him into an enthusiastic and insightful cultural cryptographer. He loves reading and cooking, and can hear the whisper of an unsheathed liquid sword from 50 paces. Twitter @WasifScion